Anti-Vaxxers

As measles outbreaks grow, West Virginia GOP moves to increase religious exemptions for vaccines

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), people who refuse to vaccinate are among the top 10 health threats facing the world in the coming year. That warning is playing out in real time as measles outbreaks are increasingly popping up around the country. But in light of this threat, anti-vaxxers with high positions in government are still trying to make vaccine-exemption more widely available to people who share their misinformed views.

According to various reports, the West Virginia Senate has introduced a bill that would increase exemptions for religious and personal reasons, along with the standard exemptions that are provided for people with medical reasons.

Senator Mark Maynard (R-Wayne), is the lead sponsor of the bill, titled Senate Bill 454. Rollan Roberts (R-Raleigh), Dave Sypolt (R-Preston), and Sue Cline (R-Wyoming), are also sponsors. WOAYTV reports that Maynard believes vaccines are linked to autism — a core belief of the anti-vaxxer movement. 

Defending his bill on the Senate floor, Maynard said that he’s voicing the concerns of parents who have difficulty obtaining medical exemptions from vaccines, but medical exemptions in the state of West Virginia already exist. Maynard’s bill only seeks to make religious and ideological exemptions more available. Vaccines against measles, chicken pox, hepatitis-B, meningitis, mumps, diphtheria, polio, rubella, tetanus, and whooping cough are currently required for children entering any public school or state-run child care center. Maynard’s bill seeks to loosen these requirements. 

While speaking on the Senate floor, Maynard said that an “increase in autism” should be taken into consideration when it comes to vaccines. 

“With religious and conscientious concerns, not only with the increase of autism that is thought to be linked to vaccination but the fact that embryos that are derived from abortions that are used in these vaccinations, should be enough reasons for parents to exempt their child,” Maynard said.

“The people that are concerned and think vaccinations are appropriate for everyone, they will still have the right to have their kids vaccinated and prevent them from getting any of these diseases that are thought to be derived from vaccinations,” he added.

The West Virginia bill comes in the wake of numerous vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks around the country. Late last month, the state of Washington declared a state of emergency after a measles outbreak that has so far infected over 35 people. The areas affected by the outbreak were known to be anti-vaccination “hot spots.”  This fall, New York faced its most severe measles outbreak in decades, which was centered in the state’s ultra-orthodox Jewish communities.

As The Washington Post reported in 2017, anti-vaccine groups gained entry to a Minnesota Somali community after parents researching autism came across their websites. Soon after, healthcare providers started seeing vaccination rates drop, which led to a measles outbreak that infected 41 people.

Globally, measles is a leading cause of death for children, killing an average of 246 children under age 5 every day. The disease can also lead to severe complications such as swelling of the brain or blindness.

Featured image (L-R): Mark Maynard, Rollan Roberts, Dave Sypolt, Sue Cline (WV Senate)

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